Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation (pictured) has stepped down, citing a perceived conflict of interest around his wife's job at outsourcing giant Sodexo.
Paul McDowell's resignation comes just two days after responsibility for managing low and medium risk offenders was passed to companies and other private organisations as part of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's controversial reforms.
Mr McDowell's wife is deputy managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, which, in partnership with another company, was awarded contracts to run Community Rehabilitation Companies in six regions.
He said: "I have today (February 2) resigned from my position as HM Chief Inspector of Probation for England and Wales.
"It is imperative that any inspectorate is independent and seen to be so.
"Although we have measures in place to manage any conflicts of interest, and I would always carry out my duties without fear or favour, it is clear that a perception of conflict around my post remains. It is therefore right that I resign.
"It has been a privilege to lead the skilled and professional team at the inspectorate and I am proud of the significant progress we have made in developing our new inspection method. Its specific focus on testing the impact of probation services and promoting effective practice is critical to public protection at a time of great change in the criminal justice system."
In a written ministerial statement Chris Grayling said: "As I discussed with the Justice Select Committee on December 2 and covered in subsequent correspondence with the Committee Chair, an issue arose about a potential perceived conflict of interest for Mr McDowell given his wife’s employment with Sodexo, and their role as a provider of probation services.
"I have considered carefully all of the potential mechanisms and systems that could be introduced and used to manage any actual or perceived conflict of interest. However Mr McDowell has decided that, in the circumstances, he will resign. Throughout this process Mr McDowell has acted with utter transparency and professionalism.
"Indeed I must acknowledge Mr McDowell’s assured leadership and the grounded independence of his findings in relation to the Inspectorate and the work he has done since his appointment. I regret that circumstances have changed and are now such that we have reached this position.
"At time of his appointment Mr McDowell’s position was fully reasonable and the appropriate preappointment processes in place at that time were properly followed. The Justice Select Committee will be involved in the appointment of a permanent successor in the usual way."